Cost Of Living Expenses In Singapore
This introductory guide is a great resource for people looking to move into Singapore. Overall, costs for basic necessities such as education, food, transport, clothing and utilities are considered to be moderate. Public transport and taxis are affordable for the majority of residents too. This said, maintaining a private vehicle, housing and private schooling for children remains costly.
Rest assured, as Singapore’s vibrant economy offers a wide range of choices and options for people on all budgets, ensuring that life in our city will always be comfortable. . For expatriates whose compensation package extends to include benefits such as car and transportation allowances, school fees, childcare, housing, and entertainment allowances and other benefits derived from your position, these costs will impact you significantly less.
Your personal cost of housing while staying in Singapore will largely depend on the property’s proximity to the Central Area, and to a lesser degree its relative age, the availability of any recreational facilities such as a gym or a pool, and the quality of the furnishings provided with the property. It’s important that you take the time to decide where in Singapore you want to live, and that this decision is only made after careful consideration of the average rental cost, as well as your personal preferences and circumstances.
Some of the options available to expats are detailed below.
The majority of expats residing in Singapore live in private condominiums due to the availability of features such as tennis courts, children’s playgrounds, swimming pools and secure access, as well as the chance to socialise and network with other expats and the affordability in comparison to renting landed property.
Private condos can vary greatly in rental prices, largely dependent on the age and location of the building. Rental costs for a 3-bedroom condo in sought-after areas close to the city-centre such as Tanglin, Orchard, Bukit Timah and River Valley can start as high as S$7,000 per month, rising to $S$15,000 per month depending on how luxuriously appointed the apartment is and its proximity to the Central Area. Rents for high-end luxury apartments such as waterfront condos in Keppel Bay and Sentosa can range from between S$8,000 and S$13,000 per month. Three-bedroom condos on the edge of the city can be as high as S$7,000 but can be found at as low as S$4,000. Condo’s located outside the city centre in neighbourhoods such as Woodlands, Bedok, Pasir Ris, Ang Mo Kio, Tampines, Changi, Yishun, Jurong, Clementi and Punggol can be less expensive – but no less luxurious – and are priced from between S$3,000 and S$5,000.
While mostly similar in furnishings to condos, private apartments in Singapore predominantly lack the facilities enjoyed by people opting to stay in condominiums such as tennis courts, large-swimming pools and BBQ pits. They also tend to be older, as most of the recent and current private construction done in Singapore takes the form of condominiums. Renting a three-bedroom private apartment in the CBD area can run a family between S$5,000 and S$7,000 per month, while apartments a bit further away from the CBD can be found for roughly S$4,000.
Living in a government housing flat (referred to as Housing and Development Board, or HDB apartments) is a reasonable option for individuals on a tighter budget. More than 80 per cent of all Singaporeans live in HDB apartments, many constructed conveniently close to basic facilities such as local schools, banks, polyclinics, malls, libraries and public transport. Rental costs are vastly more affordable, and depend on the size and location of the unit. A 3-bedroom HDB apartment close to the CBD can be found for around S$3,000, while apartments further away from the CBD can be found cheaper at between S$2,200 and S$2,700. This said, these apartments can be found so cheaply largely because they lack the rich furnishings and luxury amenities (such as swimming pool and private gyms) found in condominiums.
In Singapore, bungalows, detached and semi-detached houses are the most common forms of landed properties. Due to Singapore’s high population density and low geographic area, landed property is no longer common and can be extremely expensive to rent. A detached bungalow in a prime location can be offered at rent close to S$18,000 per month, while a high-end luxurious bungalow (i.e. 4 bedrooms, a landed area of approximately 1400 sqm complete with a large garden) can be found for prices as high as S$35,000 per month. Terraced houses and semi-detached houses can be frequently found for less – often between S$8,000 and S$13,000 per month.
Renting a single room in a private apartment owned or rented by another person in prime-positioned distrcits such as Chinatown, East Coast and River Valley are generally offered for between S$800 and S$1,800. Monthly room rental in a HDB flat will depend on the size of the room provided and the location of the flat and can range from between S$500 and S$800.
Many expats prefer the convenience and luxury of serviced apartments. Offering personalised services and hotel-style concierges and services, these are ideal for people frequently out of the office or only in Singapore for a short period of time – meaning they cannot sign an extended lease. Serviced apartments are provided fully furnished and most included a swimming pool and private gymnasium for tenant use. Many are configured for one or two bedrooms but three and four bedroom units can also be found. Lease terms are more flexible than a private or HDB apartment or landed property and tenants may often be able to negotiate on a per-day, per-week or per-month basis. The Orchard area is home to a high density of serviced apartments with additional units located in the East Coast, West Coast and River Valley areas. The monthly rental of these units depends on the level of amenities provided and the location of the unit and can range from between S$7,000 and S$14,000.
Singapore offers a wealth of delicious, low-cost food for residents. While relatively cheap, food expenses will largely depend on your priorities and lifestyle, making them either a marginal cost in your budget or a significant factor in calculating your living costs. This will largely depend on your preferences.
While living in Singapore, an expat family can save on their food budget by taking advantage of Singapore’s markets and cooking their own food as often in possible, and eating out at hawker centres or food courts. While several international cuisines are available at a range of restaurants suiting budgets of all sizes, dining out on a daily basis is certainly going to be a more expensive option regardless of your choice of establishment.
For people in Singpaore cooking at home, your average monthly personal food costs should amount to about S$200 per person, including basic meat and vegetables. Couples eating out can expect to pay as much as S$1,000 to S$1,2000 depending on their personal choices.
One of Singapore’s most unique features – and one of its most beloved institutions – is the prevalence of food courts and hawker centres. An average daily lunch at a hawker centre can cost as little as S$4, while a food court lunch can cost around S$5 or S$6. For comparison, a drink at Starbucks can cost between S$6 and S$7, while the visit to an average restaurant can cost between S$20 and S$40 per person in meals, before drinks. For a budget-conscious couple blending the two approaches, they can expect to pay between S$600 and S$1,000 for having breakfast and dinner at home, lunch out in food courts, plus some inexpensive weekend outings.
Singapore is a modern city with one of the most comprehensive, full-featured and inexpensive public transport systems anywhere in the world. The average far for a one-way bus or Mass Rapid Transport (MRT) is about S$1.60. Many residents spend about S$150 a month on average on combined bus and MRT transport fares. This breaks down to around S$3.50 per day travelling to and from work, and average $10 in weekend costs. A couple that travels regularly within Singapore by bus or MRT will generally find themselves spending roughly S$300 per month on transportation.
Singapore offers residents one of the most efficient and convenient taxi services in the world. Taxi drivers are regularly happy to cover even short distances. Unlike many western countries, taxi travel in Singapore is inexpensive, meaning that many businesspeople use it as their sole form of commuting.
Taxi fares begin at S$3 to S$3.40 for the first mile, with S$0.22 billed for every 400m traveller thereafter until 10km, and S$0.22 for every 350m after that. Special taxies like Mercedes or London cabs begin at a higher rate of about S$3.90. Cabs may be called to your location for an additional fee of between S$2.30 and S$3.30 or they can be hailed from the road. Peak hours incur an additional surcharge of 25 per cent of the metered fare between 6am and 9.30am on weekdays and 6pm to midnight seven days a week, and 50 per cent of the fare between midnight and 6am seven days a week. Location-based surcharges apply in the CBD area (S$3 from Monday to Saturday between 5pm and midnight) and from the airport (between S$3 and S$5) and in other areas. Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) charges may apply on selected expressways during peak hours which will be added to the fare.
Private care hire
In contrast with Singapore’s relatively inexpensive public transport system and taxi services, heavy government taxes make owning a private vehicle in Singapore to be a rather expensive luxury. These taxes were introduced to combat heavy congestion of the city’s roads and the rising threat of air pollution, and to encourage most Singaporeans to make use of the city’s public transport facilities.
Should you decide to buy a car, it’s important you take into account both the initial purchase costs and the recurring costs – both of which can differ substantially from the recurring costs of owning a car in other countries. The Certificate of Entitlement represents the biggest component of the initial purchase costs. The Certificate of Entitlement is a document provided by the Land Transport Authority that entitles the holder to own and register a vehicle in Singapore for a period of 10 years. These documents cannot simply be applied for or bought, and must be bid on at a COE bidding exercise. This is similar to an auction where residents looking to operate a car must bid for the certificate in order to gain one of the places limited by a pre-determined quota. In the majority of cases, the demand for the certificate far outweighs the limited number of places provided for by the quota. This imbalance – combined with the bidding process – can often lead to the cost of the certificate equalling or exceeding the price of most mid-priced vehicles. As of October 2016, the price for a certificate for a small-sized (under 1600cc and 97kW) car is S$51,507, and certificates for vehicles exceeding this threshold are priced at S$53,001.
In addition to the certificate itself, you will be required to pay a Goods and Services Tax of 7 per cent of the vehicle’s custom duty. Registration fees are S$140, plus 100 per cent of the vehicle’s Open Market Value (the value of the vehicle as assessed by Singapore Customers), as well as an excise duty of 20 per cent of Open Market Value. In addition to these initial purchase costs, the standard recurring costs of insurance, road tax, fuel, parking and others apply.
Rather than ‘gas’ or ‘gasoline’, automobile fuel is known as petrol in Singapore and is measure in litres. A litre of petrol can cost between S$2 and S$2.50 depending on the grade of fuel bought. City parking costs begin at S$2 per hour. The average household can expect to budget S$600 a month for petrol, parking and toll charges, as well as between S$500 and S$1,000 for maintenance. A current-year Japanese or European vehicle can easily cost as much as S$150,000 upfront.
Many expats respond to these high prices by opting for one of the city’s many car rental arrangements. These can range in price from as low as S$1,000 to as high as S$1,800 depending on the model of the vehicle and its mileage. Rented vehicles are permitted to drive into Malaysia on weekends.
Unlike other cities where a car is a necessity, Singapore is a very small place with a high standard of public transportation services with all buses and MRT trains air-conditioned. If your work does require a high degree of city travel during the daytime, renting or buying a car may be a prudent option. Keep in mind that owning a private car will significantly affect your average monthly living costs.
Singapore’s health care system is considered the best in Asia and amongst the best in the world by the World Health Organisation in a 2000 ranking. Cost-effective and offering state-of-the-art medical treatment with a high rate of success, the system is guided by stringent government regulations mandating transparency, service excellence, safety and cleanliness. This said, there is no obligation for employers to provide health insurance to their employers. As a general rule of thumb, the majority of employers in Singapore do not provide health insurance to their employees. Should your compensation package include health insurance, this will be a non-issue. That said, even if you are not covered by employer-provided health insurance, accessing medical services in Singapore is not prohibitively expensive.
Individuals do not need insurance to cover day-to-day healthcare needs. A monthly budget of between S$100 to S$200 is more than sufficient for covering this. A general practitioner will generally charge around S$40 in consultation fees, while blood-work or an x-ray will cost roughly S$50 to S$80. Specialists at private clinics and hospitals regularly charge between S$75 and S$125 for a consultation.
Please note that purchasing insurance covering hospitalisation and surgery is advised. Standard insurance plans will generally cost between S$2,000 and S$3,000 per year, with hospitalisation charges varying based on the type of ward chosen. Wards in Singapore range from open wards not equipped with air conditioning to private medical suites resembling a penthouse suite at a luxury hotel. As such, daily costs for wards can vary between S$30 and S$3,000.
Monthly charges for gas, water and electricity can vary from between S$200 to SS$600, depending on the usage of your air conditioner and other appliances. Mobile phone subscriptions vary in price from between S$35 to S$100 per month depending on your handset and the features of the plan. Broadband internet can be found for around S$50, and cable TV for around S$30 for the basic subscription and between S$50 and S$80 for the expanded channel selection. Singapore’s cable TV packages include familiar channels such as HBO, Disney, CNN, BBC, Discovery, ESPN and others. Foreigners should note that there is a S$250 deposit for expats singing up for a cable connection. Singapore’s local cable company StarHub offers a digital television selection complete with an affordable movies-on-demand feature offering movies for S$4.50 each.
A working expat has the choice of sending their child to a government or private schools. Private schools are also referred to as international schools while government schools are also referred to as local public schools. Singaporean education standards are consistently extremely high and either option will be a more than adequate choice for your child(ren).
A local school will follow a curriculum laid out by the Ministry of Education, and international schools will follow a curriculum often set by an international body such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) high school diploma. Local school educations are extremely affordable for residents, in contrast to international schools which can cost anywhere between S$1,000 and S$3,000 per month in tuition and other costs.
Local government schools
The Singapore primary school system is six years in length. Secondary school students nationally sit two examinations – the GCE O Level exams and the GCE N Level exams – depending on the stream they are placed into at the conclusion of primary school. Students in the Normal stream study for four years before sitting the GCE N Level exams, and have the opportunity of studying for a fifth, additional year before sitting the GCE O Level exams. Students placed into the Express or Special stream sit the GCE O level exams after four years in place of the N level exams.
Expatriates working on employment passes are free to enrol their children in local schools. However, Singaporean citizens and permanent residents have priority placement at the local schools, meaning that in many cases your choice of school will be limited. Depending on your residency status, expats can expect to pay between $110 and $550 per month for primary school education, between $160 and $800 for secondary school education, and between $220 and $1150 for pre-university education.
A range of international schools are available in Singapore to cater to the city’s diverse population. These include Japanese, American, Canadian, Swiss, Dutch, German and British schools, amongst others. Estimated annual fees are significantly higher than local schools and can vary extensively from between $12,000 and S$30,000. School bus fare expenses are an additional cost of between S$1,500 and S$2,000 per year.
Singapore has a number of childcare centres and facilities providing services for babies as well as older children up to an age of seven. Fees are set by the centre and depend on the level of service being offered. Common packages include half-day, full-day and extended full-day services. As a guide, half-day childcare (7am to 1pm) costs between S$400 and S$1,200 and full-day childcare between S$500 and S$1,500.
Hiring Domestic Help
There are numerous maid agencies in Singapore providing live-in domestic helpers. Many of the live in domestic helpers are recruited by these agencies from neighbouring and regional countries, commonly including Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar. The cost of retaining a live-in maid’s services includes both the maid’s wage and the government levy, around S$600 to S$1,000 per month. You will also be required to provide food and accommodation for the maid. A more budget conscious option is a part-time domestic worker, who can be hired for fees of around S$10 to S$20 per hour.
Singapore residents enjoy one of the lowest corporate and personal income tax rates in the world. Expats who are obliged to pay taxes frequently cite the extensive tax savings the Singapore taxation system provides as one of the key advantages of residing in the city. Taxation in Singapore follows a territorial basis under which only income that is earned in Singapore is liable for taxation by the Singapore authorities. This means that any income earned overseas – barring certain exemptions – is not liable for taxation in Singapore.
The rate of taxation differs depends on your residency status. ‘Residents’ refers to citizens, permanent residents and foreigners staying or working in Singapore a period or periods of time totalling 183 days more in a single Year of Assessment (financial year). The personal income tax rate for residents begins at 0 per cent and is capped at 22 per cent, while non-residents (foreigners who have stayed in Singapore for less than 183 days of the Year of Assessment) are taxed at a single flat rate of 15 per cent.
To avoid double taxation of income, Singapore has concluded nearly 100 comprehensive tax treaties with countries around the world. Additionally, Singapore does not have a capital gains tax, a wealth tax, or a dividend tax and does not charge an estate duty. Ottavia’s online tax calculator can be used to give people considering moving to Singapore an idea of how their taxation situation would change compared to their current country of residence.
Consumer electronics and appliances are inexpensive in Singapore. A mid-range desktop PC can be found for around $800 to $1000, while brand-name laptops can be bought for between S$800 to S$1,200. TVs can be bought for as little as S$600 or as much as S$10,000 depending on brand, features, size and other factors. Movie tickets are around S$10 and a copy of a domestic newspaper will cost you around S$1. Depending on the act performing, concert prices can be as little as S$12 or higher than S$150. The annual membership fee for the National Library Board for foreigners is $42.80. Packs of cigarettes can be found for as low as S$11 to S$13. On average a 640ml bottle of beer costs $5.65.
Singapore offers residents a wealth of choices in how and where they live. Those who know how to manage their finances and have a regular paying job will find the Singaporean cost of living much kinder than people without a budget. A couple with one child enrolled in school and one working adult can expect to live the following lifestyles.
With a take home salary of less than $4,000 per month, your living standard will be modest in may ways. You will most likely rent a Housing and Development Board flat, predominantly use public transportation to commute and travel with the occasional taxi, send your child to a local school and cook mostly home with the occasion trip out.
Increasing the take home salary to between S$6,000 and S$7,000 a month allows you to upgrade to renting a private condo outside the Central Business District and to hire a maid, while still sending your child to a local school, eating in and commuting via public transportation.
At S$10,000 per month, you should be able to afford to send your child to an international school, but not at one of the most expensive schools. You will also be able to use taxis for most of your transportation needs.
Around S$15,000 per month, you can move to a condo in the Central Business District, send your child to one of the elite international schools, and almost exclusively use taxis for transportation.
Beyond this you can consider renting landed property such as a bungalow, hiring more than one maid while eating out regularly. You will also be able to afford frequent vacations in addition to enjoying this extremely high standard of living.